A Starting Point
The journey of reconciliation, decolonization, and indigenization is going to require patience, reflection, and compassion. There is no clear path on this journey, but this guide is meant to offer a starting point. It is to provide some of the tools required for the pursuit of truth and understanding. The first and most important tool to remember is that we are human, we are going to make mistakes. Learning from our mistakes and changing for the better when corrected is what will show our true heart and intentions. An open heart and mind will find its way.
This guide collected information from the sources below, all providing accessible tools for everyone to begin their journey. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Do take a moment to look at the original resources for this guide as they have plenty more to teach and there is plenty more to learn.
When having dialogues with or about Indigenous Peoples, it is important to be aware of the terminology being used. Below are a few terms to add to your toolkit when participating in dialogues.
Indigenous Peoples: A term inclusive of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. Indigenous peoples has become the preferred term for many, including international organizations like the United Nations.
Aboriginal Peoples: Similar to Indigenous peoples, this term is inclusive of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis. Aboriginal peoples was the preferred term until the early 2000’s. Due to its colonizing ties, this term is being phased out and is now only used in legal contexts.
Indian Act: Developed in 1876, this act was designed to give control over First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples and territories. The Indian Act controls reserves, education, and determines who qualifies for Indian Status. The legislation was developed with the intention of controlling and assimilating First Nations peoples. Violence, poverty, and discrimination are only a few of the long-term impacts of the Indian Act. Despite amendments, the Indian Act continues to be problematic as it is still in effect today.
Reserves: As part of the Indian Act, the federal government set aside lands to be used and occupied by First Nations bands. Bands can construct their own political structures on reserve, but the Indian Act grants the Minister of Indian Affairs legal authority over reserves.
Indian Status: A person who holds Indian Status is registered with the federal government as being a First Nations person as defined by the Indian Act. A percentage of ancestry (blood quantum) is needed to register under the Indian Act and those who do not qualify are referred to as non-status. Inuit and Métis peoples are excluded from status registration. However, Inuit and Métis peoples can register with their nation, and they may also be eligible for specific rights. For example, the NTI card is for members of the Nunavut Agreement.
Turtle Island: Some Indigenous creation stories describe the world as being built upon a turtle’s back, which has led to many Indigenous peoples referring to North America as Turtle Island. However, there are many other Indigenous creation stories that do not feature a turtle. For example, some Inuit creation stories feature Sedna, the ocean spirit, and Haida creation stories feature the raven.
Inuit Nunangat: Nunangat is the Inuktitut word for “homeland”. It inclusively refers to the four regions of Inuit settlement (Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Nunavut, Nunavik, and Nunatsiavut).
- Avoid Terms such as “Eskimo”, “Native”, or “Indian”. These terms are offensive due to their negative connotations and their relationship with colonization. The exception to this rule would be referring to existing organizations, historical documents, or legislation. However, some Indigenous people may choose to identify themselves using these terms.
- Avoid saying “Our Indigenous peoples” or “Canada’s Indigenous peoples”. These statements perpetuate the idea that Indigenous peoples belong to Canada. There are many ways to rephrase a statement to remove implied control and ownership! For example, “Indigenous peoples in Canada”.
- When referring to Indigenous peoples, capitalize the “I” as a sign of respect. And, remember, Indigenous is not a noun. For example, “Indigenous in Canada” is incorrect. Indigenous is a descriptive word and needs to be followed by a subject. Try saying, “Indigenous communities in Canada”.
- Indigenous people is a general and all-encompassing term. Whenever possible, identify a person by their specific community or nation. Don’t know? Ask!
- Decolonize phrases! Be aware of the origins, connotations, and cultural significance of your language. Phrases such as “low man on the totem pole”, “let’s have a pow wow”, and “hold down the fort” are disrespectful. These sayings ignore the stereotypes that created them and the cultural sacredness of traditions.
Even after becoming familiar with the terminology above, there still may be some hesitancy about saying the wrong thing. Remember, the first tool in our toolkit – we are human. Even with the best intentions, mistakes will happen. When they do, commit to learning and doing better.
A territory acknowledgement brings awareness to the Indigenous peoples whose traditional territory we live, learn, and work upon. These acknowledgements are one of many steps towards reconciliation. It is a moment of pause. A time to reflect and to acknowledge the deep harm caused by colonization. Ask yourself, do I understand the harmful impacts of colonization? What am I doing to aid reconciliation? How can I better support Indigenous communities? These statements remind us of our individual roles in reconciliation and ask us to commit to further action.
Creating Territory Acknowledgements
Beyond acknowledgements should include territories, there is no perfect formula. Territory acknowledgements are personalized commitments to reconciliation and Indigenous communities. However, to help guide the way, below are some things to keep in mind:
- Ask yourself why you’re creating the acknowledgement and how it supports Indigenous communities.
- Acknowledge specific and individual nations in your acknowledgement, using traditional names and spellings.
- Be thoughtful when giving an acknowledgement. Learn about the nations and treaties you’re acknowledging. Learn about the ongoing colonization of Indigenous peoples. An acknowledgement is more than recognizing territories, it’s also recognizing the people and communities you’re honouring.
- Continue to act. Have a plan on how you are going to support Indigenous communities after your acknowledgement.
- Be afraid of uncomfortable topics or language. Acknowledging colonization and discrimination is a part of reconciliation. Territory acknowledgments and other acts of reconciliation are not always cheery and polite.
- Say it and forget it. Acknowledgements are a commitment to do better. Not following up with an action plan can make the acknowledgement appear inauthentic or performative.
There are many resources to help determine the territory you are working, presenting, or living on. When looking up territories, it is also good practice to check the website of the nation(s). Many nations include how they would like to be addressed and acknowledged on their websites!
Written Territory Acknowledgements
All territory acknowledgements have two main principles at heart: sincerity and accountability. Below are statements that can be adopted in written circumstances, such as for your email signature. Again, a starting point. You may wish to use one of these statements until you feel confident writing your own or you might be ready to skip this step and create your own. You might need more time to reflect before using an acknowledgement. Everyone moves at different paces, so it’s important to reflect on your personal relationship with reconciliation and territory acknowledgements.
- We are on the traditional territories of __________.
- We are on the traditional territories of ___________. We give our gratitude and respect to the peoples who lived here long before European colonies, who still call this land home today, and who will continue to call this land home tomorrow.
- We are on the traditional territories of the _____. With this acknowledgement we give our gratitude and respect to the peoples whose territories we live, work, and play upon.
Fact or Fiction?
When discussing Indigenous Peoples, stereotypes and biases tend to come to the surface. Part of being an ally to Indigenous Peoples is to fight against discrimination. Here are a few clarifications of some common biases and stereotypes:
Canada is an Indigenous name.
Fiction: The name Canada was given by European settlers when establishing a colonial nation. It is not an Indigenous name. This false belief has stemmed from stories suggesting European settlers created the name Canada after the misunderstanding of the Huron-Iroquois word “Kanata” meaning village.
Some Indigenous peoples in Canada do not pay income taxes.
Fact: Yes, there are some First Nations people in Canada who do not pay income taxes. But, most do. For a First Nation person to be exempt from income tax they must meet the specific requirements stated in section 87 of the Indian Act. Two of these requirements are that the person is status holding and earning income on reserve. To recall, Inuit and Métis peoples do not qualify for Indian status. So, although there are some First Nations people who do not pay income taxes, most Indigenous peoples living in Canada have the same tax responsibilities set by the Canadian government.
Indigenous peoples in Canada receive “perks” and “freebies”.
Fiction: Indigenous peoples have rights, not perks. Various treaties and agreements have established specific rights for Indigenous peoples. Some of the resources available to Indigenous peoples are also acts of reconciliation. Providing policies, programs, and funding are actions intended to aid in repairing the harm caused by colonization, discrimination, residential school, the 60s Scoop, and multiple other acts of colonial violence.
All Indigenous peoples in Canada receive free post-secondary education.
Fiction: Not every Indigenous student receives a free post-secondary education. It will depend on whether the Indigenous student is registered with their band or nation, whether the band or nation has funding available to pay for education costs, and whether the band or nation has special requirements for the program the student is attending. Some Indigenous students will receive full-funding, some partial-funding, and some no-funding for their education.
Indigenous people represent one identity, sharing the same traditions and culture.
Fiction: There are hundreds of Indigenous communities. Each of these communities have their own traditions, culture, and languages. It is important to recognize that Indigenous groups can be significantly different, even if they live in the same region. Do you ever catch yourself saying, “You’re Indigenous, what’s your take on this?” If so, remember that one Indigenous individual cannot represent the opinion of hundreds of communities.
The colonization of Indigenous peoples started with the arrival of European settlers and continues to this day. The importance of decolonizing is held in the long and violent history of colonization in Canada. Below are some topics to learn more about Canada’s colonization of Indigenous peoples:
- The Indian Act.
- Residential Schools.
- The 60s Scoop & Millennial Scoop
- The White Paper, 1969
- Intergenerational Trauma
Other ways to decolonize? Follow Indigenous media, learn about current events and issues impacting Indigenous peoples, and listen deeply to Indigenous community members, activists, and academics.
This is only the beginning. The relationship, understandings, and terms will evolve over time. As you learn more and continue your journey, remember, Indigenous peoples are people! People to be recognized for rich cultures and histories, but also as one of the fastest growing populations in Canada today.
To continue adding to your learning journey, visit the resources below: